It’s safe to say the Phillies lost this trade, big-time.
In 2020, seeking bullpen upgrades for a late-season push, the Phillies agreed to deal a struggling Nick Pivetta and prospect Connor Seabold to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Heath Hembree, closer Brandon Workman, and cash.
The trade seemed like a no-brainer for Philadelphia; Pivetta had never posted an ERA under 4.77 in any of his four seasons with the club. In three appearances in 2020, he had completely fallen apart; he had a 15.88 ERA over 5 2/3 innings and had allowed 10 earned runs on 10 hits.
They couldn’t seem to figure him out, and Red Sox President of Baseball Ops, Chaim Bloom, wanted him in exchange for two relievers with postseason pedigree? Have at it.
Workman had been arguably the best closer in baseball the year before. Despite MLB’s juiced balls, he only allowed one home run in 73 games and held opposing batters to a league-best .123 AVG in 2019. He wasn’t as effective in 2020, but his 4.05 ERA over seven games was still workable, and the Phillies were hopeful he could return to 2019 form for them as they made a push for the playoffs.
Instead, Workman imploded with the Phillies. His ERA rose to 6.92 over 13 innings in 14 games. He had five saves, and blew three, as opposing batters slugged .377/.457/.6898 against him with a 1.146 OPS.
Workman became a free agent at the end of the season, and the Phillies let him walk away. After a short, unsuccessful stint with the Cubs, he has since returned to the Red Sox and currently has a 2.00 ERA over nine appearances with his once-again team.
In his first offseason with the Phillies, Dombrowski, also formerly of the Red Sox, added relievers Jose Alvarado, Sam Coonrod, Brandon Kintzler, and Archie Bradley. Current closer Hector Neris has struggled mightily of late, and Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that might be moving someone else into the role soon.
Pivetta’s success in Boston stings as the Phillies rotation struggles
But considering the current state of the Phillies rotation, Pivetta’s success in Boston has to sting. The Red Sox won 11 of his first 12 starts with the team dating back to last season. He has at least six strikeouts in 11 of his 15 starts this season, and has gone at least five innings in all but two of his starts.
Depth and effectiveness? The Phillies are lucky if they can get one or the other from their starters.
On Thursday night, Pivetta no-hit the Tampa Bay Rays for 6 2/3 innings, walking two, and striking out eight. Even with their 2018 success, he came close to doing something no Red Sox starter had done since 2016.
Meanwhile, the current Phillies rotation – Zack Wheeler excluded – is in shambles. Aside from Wheeler, every other pitcher who has made at least four starts has an ERA over 4.22. They also have numerous pitchers on the Injured List, including Chase Anderson, one of Dave Dombrowski’s offseason acquisitions meant to bolster the rotation. He has a 7.34 ERA and 5.61 FIP over 11 games (8 starts).
On the one hand, Pivetta’s success in Boston highlights exactly what the Phillies rotation lacks, and will cause some to wonder if the trade was a mistake. But on the other hand – and more likely – is that Pivetta was never going to be this good for the Phillies after all this time.
Sometimes, a change of scenery is necessary. The Red Sox had a similar situation with Andrew Benintendi, whom they traded to the Kansas City Royals during the offseason. The way Pivetta’s career was going with the Phillies, if they hadn’t traded him, he likely would have been one of the pitchers fans are complaining about right now.
Hindsight is 20/20 on every trade, but Pivetta can’t save the Phillies now. If the Phillies want to improve this season, they’re going to have to look elsewhere to upgrade the rotation.